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Academy Notebook: U-23 program ended as stakes raised in youth pipeline

OaM academy expert Eric Friedlander breaks down the goings-on in the club’s evolving pipeline

MLS: 2022 New York Media Day
Daniel Edelman is the first case study of the current academy regime’s methods at MLS level

One thing that is becoming quite common in the New York Red Bulls academy is players moving up and down through the age groups and USL teams. This fall season was no different. For the Red Bulls, this past fall was viewed as a huge success capped off with a successful trip to california for Generation Adidas Cup qualifying.

At the GA Cup the U-15’s topped the group winning all three games and the U-17’s finished second. In the lead1up lots of players moved up age groups and have been rewarded with youth national team call ups. Nate Worth and Jerimiah White, two of the top 07’s in the program, spent time with the U-17’s and are currently with the U-15 national team. JC Cortez, who got lots of time with Red Bulls II, spent a month with Peru’s U-20. Heading out of the fall the Red Bulls will only play MLS teams in the spring guaranteeing a consistently high level of competition.

For New York academy director Sean McCafferty, the young players moving up ages the key is to find a balance of consistently challenging them and making sure they still have success.

“I’ve said this probably before, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, right? So we have to be challenging those players. Whenever someone’s age appropriate and it looks like it’s a little bit easy. Then they need to move on. We need to move them up. We need to give them different challenges, because then the will have to find other ways in which to solve [challenges] but it is also vitally important that when we challenge players that they still have success, they still have to have confidence and have success in developed certain areas of their game where maybe playing up it’s too difficult”

“The balance is often not a week-to-week process but a couple weeks to a month and it’s very strategic not reactive. The goal is that the players don’t get complacent.”

McCafferty with more public role

One thing fans may have noticed is a more public role in the club for Sean McCafferty, often being quotes in press releases regarding Red Bull 2. The reason for this is starting january of last year he has added the role of being director of Red Bulls II. For McCafferty this has meant learning elements of the professional game that are not seen in the academy in what McCafferty describes as an extension of his role not a new one.

“So it’s been, you know, learning the components of that job, the aspects that maybe I haven’t experienced before with, you know, dealing with agents, working with the people here internally in regards to, you know, agreeing to terms for contracts, all that kind of fun stuff, a lot of scouting, which is good working with the scouting department to bring in some top young prospects and then obviously, as I was doing before, advocating for our top young talents, to be given, you know, opportunities exposure to the second team level”

IDP program off to strong start

IDP stands for independent development program, a new program the Red Bulls recently announced. The idea of this program is to provide more contact time with the top prospects and focus on really turning strong skills into elite skills. Currently this group ranges from 5-10 kids who come in two to three days a week.

“Ultimately the aim here is to, to really focus on their strengths and make them super strength so to speak, but then also spend some time in their areas for improvement. We will always say we don’t want to have something be a reason they don’t get a contract. But we also don’t want to ignore their strengths because that’s why they will get a contract.”

The IDP program is relatively new starting in earnest this past fall. However, the first real test case is Daniel Edelman who worked with Sammy Castellanos to improve his ability to play forward and break lines.

While the contact time is important the Red Bulls also collect data to gather evidence of progression and the work they do in the IDP program.

“[Data] is a tool that we have to use. Sam Goldberg, our data scientist has been unbelievable creating programs which the staff upload their, their work to so we track all the work that we do the type of work that we do, you know, obviously as well as from a workload standpoint, but ultimately, then we you know, it’s okay, well, four weeks or six weeks later, what’s the outcome we’ve done this work has it worked, what does the data show was what does the performance show us”

U-23 is no more

As keen observers have noticed the Red Bull U-23 team was not listed when USL League 2 announced the conference alignment a few weeks back. The reason for this was because Red Bull have decided to discontinue the club. With the U-23 team it was decided it was not worth the resources it required. Between staff needing time off after a long academy season as well as diminishing returns, a decision was made to cut bait. For the team the stated benefit was always about seeing players in their environment which is something they feel they can accomplish by bringing in players to train with Red Bull II. With so many local teams such as FC Motown, games will be available for local talent and they will spend more time watching players in college instead.

Bento Estrela comeback

Still only 14 years old when he signed last year, Bento Estrela was a very young prospect despite his first team deal. With young players he they have growing pains and Estrela had his fair share. This past fall he picked up injuries and shot up to 6’4” which led to him losing quite a bit of weight. He is now back on the field and putting most of the weight back on. McCafferty emphasized they will be patient with Bento and look after him physically and mentally.

Youngest groups shine

Looking well into the future, McCafferty was quick to praise Dave Jervis and his staff for the considerable depth and talent at the ‘08 age group and below.

“We have a best-in-class youth program. That’s the best in the country. People try and mimic what we’re doing. So those young talents come into our pre academies of talent IDs, our camps, everything they do at that level, gives us such a strong foundation coming into the U-12 age group.”

Currently the U-15 group which is a group primarily made up of 07’s has multiple 08’s including Jack Mize who trains with the U-17’s. The U-14 group is still very strong and includes a handful of 09’s playing with a very strong group. The depth and talent at these younger ages quietly excites the staff.